In other words: which candidate deserves to be not just our nominee in 2020, but our leader for the next generation?
The most recent round of debates, in July, was filled with missed opportunities to answer this question. Many candidates spent too much time in the weeds, developing “gotcha” moments or straining to draw personal or policy distinctions—at once testing viewers’ patience and missing the forest for the trees.
This is not to suggest that the many differences between candidates are insignificant. But voters don’t tune in to prime-time debates to watch hours of wonkish hair-splitting. They—we—are hungry for someone to present an affirmative vision for America, post-Trump.
Which is why Democrats, having been granted three hours of national airtime to show the American people what we stand for, can ill-afford to squander this opportunity on minor disagreements. Airing significant, substantive contrasts is, as always, important—but candidates would do well to remember that the contrast that matters most is the one between Democrats’ hopeful, inclusive agenda and the divisive, self-destructive, special interest-driven record of the Trump administration.
If Democrats are to have any hope of winning next fall, we need our presidential contenders to do better. Falling short of our policy ideals is not the same as affirmatively and deliberately harming innocent families, and it’s counterproductive—even offensive—to suggest otherwise.
What matters in 2020 is not what a given candidate might’ve done in Obama’s shoes nearly a decade ago, given the benefit of hindsight and without any of the political, policy, and legal constraints Obama actually faced. What matters is whether we can count on our nominee to effectively lead the nation today—and manage an executive branch Trump has nearly reduced to ruins—by building upon, rather than denigrating, the record of achievement established by Obama and other Democratic presidents as far back as FDR.
It’s a record in which every Democrat should take pride—and upon which our next standard-bearer must campaign, rather than attack by accepting as real Republican talking points.
After all, ours is the party of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act—all of which we’ve fought hard to protect against Republican efforts to tear down over decades.
Ours is the party that helped rally the world to fight climate change—and that values, secures, and strengthens the kinds of international agreements that these new Republicans shred for purely political and corrupt economic reasons, sowing global instability, rattling our most important alliances and emboldening dictators in the process.
We fight for racial and religious equality, for civil rights and LGBT rights, and for common sense immigration policy and gun safety laws. And we’d never tolerate racist rhetoric from a president who traffics in xenophobia and draws enthusiastic praise from avowed white supremacists and Nazis—let alone enact policies that discriminate against immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ Americans, women and so many others.
Advocating hard for the broader Democratic agenda that is rooted in our history as a party should be our candidates’ major focus on Thursday night.
During the debate and as the 2020 race continues, I invite my fellow primary voters to seek out and support the candidate who’s proudest to run on our party’s extraordinary record, who lays out the most compelling vision for building upon it, and who’s willing to fight for the progressive, inclusive values that underlie so much of the history that we’ve made together.